Psychology Today is featuring articles on gifted children this week. You may be surprised to learn that being a gifted child can bring on some challenges, along with all the benefits.
What Does “Gifted” Mean?
Being intellectually gifted basically means that a person’s intellectual ability is higher than average compared to their peers. There are plenty of arguments for and against IQ testing, and even variations in models for giftedness, but no matter where your ideations about this issue fall, kids are still being classified based on intelligence levels. The article, Is Every Child Gifted? Probably Not gives us a practical definition of giftedness by two simple questions:
1. Does the child exhibit an extraordinary ability relative to other kids of his/her age?
2. Is the ability considered valuable by the school system?
Of course there are pros and cons (yes, there are cons) to being considered a gifted individual. My disclaimer: Like most other things, every child and every environment is different and may or may not possess these traits or experiences, so consider these generalizations. I also included some of the bullet points as both a pro and a con, such as parental expectations. Again, this is because every person is different and what may be good for one person is not so good for another.
The Pros of Being Gifted
- Intellectual head start. Cognitively, this individual is above the fray.
- Attention from educators. Teachers and other educators may take an interest and want to see what special things this child can do in the classroom.
- Expectations are already set high. Parents, edcucators, and others surrounding this child may communicate expectations for success. This can show in various ways, such as not settling for B’s on a report card, or enrolling them in individual piano lessons with the most distinguished teachers.
In the article, The Benefits of Being Gifted, the author shares a list of traits that are found to be higher than average among gifted children. Some of these are quite interesting, such as “supermarket shopping ability” and “talking speed!”
For example, here are a list of traits that are positively associated with being smart, meaning smarter people, on average, tend to be higher on these variables (taken from The g Factor by Arthur R. Jensen):
Aptitudes, cognitive abilities, ‘abstractness of’ integrative complexity
Artistic preferences and abilities
Dietary preferences (low sugar, low fat)
Health, fitness, longevity
Humor, sense of
Interests, depth and breadth of
Involvement in school activities
Linguistic abilities (including spelling)
Marital partner, choice of
Moral reasoning and development
Musical preferences and abilities
Psychotherapy, response to
Socioeconomic status of origin
Sports participation at university
Supermarket shopping ability
Values and attainments
The Cons of Being Gifted
- Personal assumption of doing well without effort. The gifted child may assume they don’t need to study as hard or work as hard because they are labeled gifted. They may do fine, but won’t reach their full potential.
- Emotional immaturity or sensitivity. Often times, gifted children (let’s assume younger than 12 years) are cognitively smarter than they are emotionally mature. This can be problematic if they are in higher grades or socializing with older kids.
- Social awkardness, or being labeled “different.” Anytime kids don’t fall into the norm, there is a possibility they come off strange or different to their peers. Gifted children may also find it difficult to relate to peers of their same age.
- Excessively high expectations. Children may be expected, and eventually expect of themselves, perfectionism. Seeking perfection is impossible and can lead to a host of emotional problems in the long run.
In the article, The Benefits of Being Gifted, the author shares a list of traits that are found to be lower than average among gifted children:
Conservatism (of social views)
Falsification (“Lie” scores)
Hysteria (versus other neuroses)
Gifted or Not, Now What?
Whether or not your child is gifted, the most important thing you can do is to encourage them to work hard no matter what. Many times, it is assumed that gifted children will do well and they may not be encouraged to put in the time and effort it takes in order to succeed. As Jonathan Wai, Ph.D, mentions in his article, The Benefits of Being Gifted, “regardless of the cards you now hold in your hand, whether or not you will achieve highly in any area depends to a great deal on how hard you are willing to work. “
We are all born with a level of potential. Certainly, being born with high intellectual abilities is a plus, but if those abilities are not fostered with the right environment, the child’s full potential will not be reached. In fact, if a person initally measured with a lower IQ is given an enriched environment (which includes educational opportunities, a good diet and physical health, family encouragement and support, etc.) can be more successful than a person born with a high IQ who was not given such an environment.
The author of Smart Kids Face Challenges Too puts it so well when she says, “ In our eagerness to support children’s achievement, we sometimes forget that potential is not a lofty end goal but the capacity to grow, learn, and adapt to change throughout life. It is about discovering a fulfilling and meaningful life, one that cannot be measured by numbers.”
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